Directed by Phillippa Lowthorpe. Starring Kelly Macdonald, Jessica Hynes, Harry Enfield, Rafe Spall, Andrew Scott.
THE PLOT: In the summer of 1935, the Walker children – John (Dane Hughes), Susan (Orla Hill), Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) and Roger (Bobby McCulloch) – travel from Portsmouth to the Lake District with their mother for their summer holidays. Fascinated by an island in the middle of the lake, the kids decide to sail out there and make camp, but it is not long before the Walker kids find their claim to the island threatened, and at the same time, find themselves caught up with a very grown up mystery happening on the mainland.
THE VERDICT: ‘Swallows & Amazon’s is a curious film. Reminiscent of the Enid Blyton books, ‘The Railway Children’ and ‘Five Children and It’, this adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s book is beautifully shot, badly acted and never really sure what it is trying to be, or who it is aimed at.
The cast of the film is made up of Rafe Spall as the mysterious Captain Flint – as the kids name him – Andrew Scott, Kelly Macdonald, Jessica Stevenson and Harry Enfield. These are just the adults, and while they do well enough with their generally horrible characters, they are not the main focus of the film. That honour goes to the Walker children, played by Dane Hughes, Orla Hill, Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen and Bobby McCollough. It seems that either the kids were under directed or we have become incredibly accustomed to outstanding performances from young actors, whatever the case, the kids are wooden and rather unlikeable in their roles as they constantly berate, insult and are rude to one another.
Andrea Gibb’s screenplay reimagines the character of Captain Flint from the novels, and this is where the problems with the film arise. Changing the character from a man writing his memoirs, to a spy hiding from Russia in the Lake District is directly inspired by Arthur Ransome’s life, and may have seemed like a good way to inject some action into the film, but there is a distinct lack of balance between the plot and the subplot throughout the film, and the story ends up feeling more like one of Enid Blyton’s than one of Ransome’s. As well as this, the dialogue is nasty, the characters constantly sarcastic and rude and the pacing is such a mess that the film feels drawn out and dull.
As director, Philippa Lowthorpe has delivered a beautifully shot film that is populated with whining and under-directed child actors and adults who are seemingly angry at life, while pacing the film terribly, and never managing to make the film sure of who it is aimed at. Nostalgic adults or kids bored of playing on iPads? It’s never clear, and this is an issue.
In all, ‘Swallows & Amazons’ is not quite sure what it is trying to be, or who it is aimed at. The film is beautifully shot, but populated with irritating and unlikeable characters, and has a sub plot that drifts in and out of the film seemingly at will.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Previously adapted as a TV movie in 1963 and then a 1974 film, Arthur Ransome’s 1930 book Swallows And Amazons gets a third screen version – but does it justify itself for a modern audience?

    The Walker family move to the Lake District for a summer of adventure. Mrs. Walker (Kelly Macdonald) keeps a watchful eye on her four young charges – John (Dane Hughes), Susan (Orla Hill), Roger (Bobby McCulloch) and the youngest, Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen). On the train to the Lake District, they encounter Captain Flint (Rafe Spall), who is on the run from mysterious Russian agent Lazlov (Andrew Scott). Having evaded his pursuers, they encounter the surly Captain Flint again later on, where he lives on a houseboat. The children set off on their own adventure one day in their boat Swallow, whereupon they set camp on an island they claim as Walker Island. But there are two other children there, the Blacketts (Seren Hawkes and Hannah Jayne Thorp), or rather the Amazons, who won’t give up the island without a fight…

    It’s hard to know who the exact target audience for this new take on Swallows And Amazons is. The preview screening that this reviewer attended was only a third full on an apparent sell-out. Maybe it was the bad weather. Or maybe it’s just not a film that’s going to appeal to modern children – being quaint and not particularly exciting. There are no talking animals or 3D either. Maybe it’s aimed more at older viewers like this one, who has vague memories of catching the 1974 film on Bank Holidays. The story has been updated slightly, by moving it forward a few years to 1935, to give it a touch of pre-war espionage. Other amendments include the change of one character’s name given its now political incorrectness – Tatty is actually called Titty in the book (stop sniggering).

    Philippa Lowthorpe’s film is at least competently made and makes good use of its locations. The cast is good too, with the children maintaining their own presence against the more seasoned adult players. But Lowthorpe never really makes enough effort to escape the impression that what we’re watching is a really just a re-heated old meal. There’a TV-like quality to this production that feels out of place, when it should be sweepingly cinematic in broad strokes. There’s a missed opportunity here to make the story more relevant to now, rather than come across as overly faithful to its source material. It’s pleasant, undemanding and unremarkable entertainment, but you’d be better off saving your money and catching it on a rainy Sunday afternoon on BBC Two in two years time. **